If anybody's been holding out on buying a DVD player until they start bringing out the classics of the pre-tax-shelter Canadian cinema, here they are, hitting the shelves in the space of two weeks. And while we're on the subject, who has the rights for Don Owen's Partners and Paul Lynch's The Hard Part Begins? I'm not joking.
Goin' Down The Road represents a key moment in the development of English-Canadian film. It's worth owning purely as an historical document. William Fruet's Wedding In White remains the bleakest film in Canadian cinema. Shebib and Fruet were, at the time, trying to dig into the Canadian soul in that "we are the Swedes of North America" style that marked English-Canadian films of the period. On Black Christmas, American expatriate Bob Clark, who went on to make Porky's, had other things on his mind.
goin' down the road (Seville Signature, 1970) D: Don Shebib, w/ Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley. $35. Rating: NNNN
Surprisingly, Goin' Down The Road holds up really well, a tribute to the performers and the way the director structures the film. Shebib describes it as a Dogme film before its time and is quick to point out the casual nature of the production.
But it's the near-documentary observation of character in this story of two Nova Scotians who head for Toronto to find work, only to discover the same downward spiral of poverty, that gives it timeless power. Unfortunately, the colour has faded somewhat and there's no negative to return to. Goin' Down The Road was never the best-looking film to begin with; the budget was less than $100,000. Otherwise, this is an excellent issue. Shebib's commentary is superb. It's missing one major extra: Seville couldn't clear the music rights on the great SCTV parody.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, critical commentary by Geoff Pevere, 1972 Pierre Berton Show with Shebib, production stills gallery.
wedding in white (Video Services, 1972) D: William Fruet, w/ Carol Kane, Donald Pleasence, $30. Rating: NNN
Goin' Down The Road and Wedding In White are inextricably linked, sharing screenwriter, cinematographer (Richard Leiterman) and actors (Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley), but they're not much alike. Goin' Down The Road is shot in raw verité style and was constructed in editing. Wedding In White is much more formal, more heavily scripted, and Leiterman actually had time to light the film.
Wedding In White is a peculiar masterpiece in the school of drizzly realism. It centres on one of the greatest performances ever given in a movie anywhere, the astonishing 19-year-old Carol Kane as Jeannie Dougall, raped, impregnated and abandoned to the mercy of her family in Nova Scotia, 1943. Video Services has managed a very good transfer. This is a tough film to recommend. It's harrowing to watch, so precisely observed that nothing disturbs its unblinking emotional force. It's also the peak of writer-director William Fruet's career. After writing Goin' Down The Road and Rip-Off and making this film, he descended into three decades of hack work in tax-shelter pictures and syndicated television.
DVD EXTRAS Carol Kane commentary with disc producer Jonathan Gross, production stills gallery.
black christmas (Critical Mass/Video Services, 1974) D: Bob Clark, w/ Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea. $30. Rating: NN
Watching Black Christmas after the other two, one gets a curious perspective on the idea of stardom in Canada. Doug McGrath stars in Goin' Down The Road. In Wedding In White he has the small but pivotal role of the soldier who knocks up Carol Kane. In Black Christmas, with its imported "name" stars, McGrath hangs around as the dumb cop -- he's comic relief.
Black Christmas has a cult reputation as a great horror film, which it isn't, and as a precursor of the slasher movie, which it is. One can be reasonably sure that John Carpenter looked closely at Clark's use of the killer's POV and cast of female victims before he made Halloween. Of course, the difference between Halloween and Black Christmas is that Carpenter was a great stylist and Clark a graceless, clunky director. There's one great performance, by Margot Kidder as a foul-mouthed sorority sister. Black Christmas has two commentaries, but Clark doesn't seem all that interested and the so-called Keir Dullea/John Saxon commentary is assembled from interviews. I'd love to hear an Andrea Martin commentary; she actually has more scenes than the other two actors combined. The making-of, hosted by Art Hindle and Lynne Griffith, is just too cutesy.
DVD EXTRAS Making-of documentary, director commentary, trailers and TV spots, episode of Dark Dreams featuring John Saxon.